First edition title page
|Author||Louisa May Alcott|
|Preceded by||Little Women|
|Followed by||Jo's Boys|
Little Men, or Life at Plumfield with Jo's Boys, is a novel by American author Louisa May Alcott, first published in 1871. The novel reprises characters from Little Women and is considered by some the second book in an unofficial Little Women trilogy, which is completed with Alcott's 1886 novel Jo's Boys, and How They Turned Out: A Sequel to "Little Men". It tells the story of Jo Bhaer and the children at Plumfield Estate School. It was inspired by the death of Alcott's brother-in-law, which reveals itself in one of the last chapters, when a beloved character from Little Women passes away. It has been adapted to a 1934 film, a 1940 film, a 1998 film, a television series, and a Japanese animated television series.
The book recounts six months in the life of the students at Plumfield, a school run by Professor Friedrich and Mrs. Josephine Bhaer. The idea of the school is first suggested at the very end of part two of "Little Women", when Jo inherited the estate from her Aunt March.
The story begins with the arrival of Nat Blake, a shy young orphan who used to earn a living playing the violin. We are introduced to the majority of the characters through his eyes. There are ten boys at the school already; Nat, and later his friend Dan, join them, and soon after Nan arrives as companion for Daisy, the only girl. Jo's sons Rob and Teddy are younger than the others and are not counted among the pupils, nor are the two girls, Daisy and Nan.
The school is not run on conventional lines. All the children have their own gardens and their own pets, and are encouraged to experiment with running businesses. Pillow fights are permitted on Saturdays, subject to a time limit. Children are treated as individuals, with a strong emphasis on gently molding their characters.
Daisy Brooke, Meg's daughter, is at the school with her twin brother Demi, but is somewhat isolated with no other girls her age, until Nan's arrival. Nan is even more of a tomboy than Jo was as a child, while Daisy is interested mainly in dolls and in her own mini kitchen, purchased by Jo's brother-in-law, Laurie.
The other new student, Dan, is introduced by Nat. Dan originally decides the other boys are "molly-coddles" and leads them in experiments with fighting, drinking, smoking, swearing and playing cards, which results in his being temporarily removed from the school. He returns eventually with an injured foot, and redeems himself by standing up for Nat when Nat is falsely accused of theft by the other boys. He also becomes curator of the school's natural history museum.
Personal relationships are central to the school, and diversity is celebrated. Daisy is deeply attached to her twin brother, to shy Nat, and to tomboy Nan. Nan and Tommy are also close and intend to marry when they grow up. Dan, already friends with Nat, is unexpectedly drawn to the pious Demi and the toddler Teddy. While Franz, Emil, Daisy and Demi are all related to the Bhaers, they are not treated with favouritism and are encouraged to overcome their faults just the same as the other pupils.
The Boys and Girls of Plumfield
- Nathaniel "Nat" Blake: A twelve-year-old orphan, who lived as a street musician. He was discovered in a cellar by Mr. Laurence and brought to Plumfield. Although he has a habit of lying and is far behind the others in school at first, he is thoughtful, caring, and talented with a fiddle, quickly becoming one of the "favorites".
- Daniel "Dan" Kean: A neglected fourteen-year-old orphan, who is brought to Plumfield by Nat. At first, he proves to be a rough, ill-mannered boy, who doesn't seem to trust or care about anyone, aside from Baby Teddy. After breaking nearly all the rules of the school, he is sent away, although later he finds his way back to Plumfield, where Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer take him in again, helping him become a kind and responsible person.
- John "Demi" Brooke: John and Meg Brooke's nine-year-old son. Demi is scholarly, and would much rather read a book than play sports with the other children. He loves to spend time with his twin sister, Daisy, and his Grandpa March. He has been nicknamed "the deacon" and is very innocent and sweet, and is another one of the "favorites".
- Margaret "Daisy" Brooke: John and Meg Brooke's nine-year-old daughter. She is Demi's twin sister, and loves her brother very much. Although she has many dolls that she lovingly cares and cooks for, she had to spend a lot of time alone because the boys wouldn't let her play games with them. Mrs. Jo tried to solve this problem by providing a miniature kitchen, but, later, Daisy's loneliness is primarily ended when Nan came to live at Plumfield. She is described as "sunshiny and charming" and delights in housework such as cooking, cleaning, washing, and sewing.
- Thomas "Tommy" Bangs: An eleven-year-old boy who means well, but manages to get himself into some kind of trouble constantly. However, he is very well-tempered and friendly, and in spite of his many pranks and carelessness, he gets along well and is another "favorite".
- Annie "Nan" Harding: A ten-year-old girl who is determined to prove that girls can do anything boys can. When her mother died, she ran wild, so her father readily agreed to send her to Plumfield when Mrs. Jo proposed the idea. She is quite skilled when it comes to caring for the boys' minor injuries and wants to become a doctor when she grows up, deciding she doesn't want any family to "fuss over", to Daisy's shock.
- Robin "Rob" Bhaer: Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer's five-year-old son. He is attached to his mother and is very loyal to her. He also likes to be a part of the other children's activities, such as huckleberry picking.
- Theodore "Teddy" Bhaer: Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer's two-year-old son who is surprisingly attached to gruff Dan.
- Emil Hoffmann: A fourteen-year-old boy who is raised by his uncle, Mr. Bhaer. He has an intense love for the sea, and wants to be a sailor when he grows up. He is very determined, refusing to give up in a fistfight with Dan. Although he is guilty of having a bad temper, he is outgoing and friendly.
- Franz Hoffmann: Emil's responsible sixteen-year-old brother. He goes on errands into town for the school until Dan takes the job. He is the oldest boy at Plumfield and helps Mr. Bhaer teach classes.
- Ned Barker: A fourteen-year-old boy, called "Blunderbuss" because he regularly runs into, trips across, or knocks things over by accident. He likes to brag but isn't very brave and is described as someone that "could very easily be led astray".
- Jack Ford: A twelve-year-old boy who was sent to Plumfield because it was cheap. He steals Tommy's money and allows Nat and then Dan to be blamed for the theft. After this uproar, he runs away, leaving a letter confessing that he was the thief. After Jack's uncle hears about these events, he thrashes Jack and forces him to return, not realizing that his nephew was only following the example he put forth.
- George "Stuffy" Cole: A twelve-year-old boy, spoiled by his mother and her many sweetmeats. He is overweight, constantly talks about food and hates exercise.
- Dick Brown: An eight-year-old boy with a crooked back. At first, some of the boys make fun of him, but then they learn to accept him. He is an amiable boy, so much that Demi solemnly asks if having a crooked back makes a person good.
- Billy Ward: A mentally challenged thirteen-year-old boy. When younger he was remarkably intelligent, but his father pushed him so hard in his studies that it nearly killed him, leaving him with the intellect of a six-year-old. Although the Bhaers struggle to teach him things as simple as the alphabet, they continue to patiently and tirelessly work with him. Billy is especially fond of Nat and loves listening to him play the violin.
- Adolphus "Dolly" Pettingill: An eight-year-old boy with a stutter. Mr. Bhaer tries to cure him of it by making him talk slowly.
- Josephine "Jo" Bhaer: The owner of the school and the "mother" to all of the children. She lives a very busy life, taking care of her husband, sons, and students at Plumfield, and visiting her mother and sisters. She is described as having a "merry sort of face" and rightly so, for she is cheerful person, still tempted to play the children's games.
- Friedrich "Fritz" Bhaer: Jo's husband, Rob and Teddy's father, and Franz and Emil's uncle. Originally from Germany, he is a kind-hearted, wise and caring man, taking the time to talk and spend time with each child as well as directing their education.
- Theodore "Laurie/Teddy" Laurence: Amy's husband, and good friend of Jo, who is the only one allowed to call him "Teddy". He is a fun-loving, wealthy young man, and is very generous when it comes to the needs of the school and its students. He makes frequent visits to the school, usually taking his daughter Bess with him.
- Elizabeth "Bess" Laurence: Laurie and Amy's five-year-old daughter, nicknamed "Goldilocks" or "Princess". She often visits Plumfield, where she is almost worshipped by the pupils. She lives a very sheltered life and is horrified by cruelty or dirtiness.
- Asia: The cook employed at Plumfield. She is sometimes irritable but loves the children.
- Mary Ann: A pretty maid employed at Plumfield.
- Margaret "Meg" Brooke: Daisy, Demi, and Josie's mother, John Brooke's wife, and Mrs. Jo's oldest sister. She loves her family dearly, and quietly cares for each of them. Jo is amazed at how peaceful and strong Meg remains after John dies.
- Amy Laurence: Jo's youngest sister, Mr. Laurence's wife, and Bess's mother. A feisty character in "Little Women", she lacks any distinctive personality in "Little Men".
- Josephine "Josie" Brooke: John and Meg Brooke's four-year-old daughter and Daisy and Demi's sister. She receives many hand-made clothing articles from Daisy.
- John Brooke: Meg Brooke's husband and Demi, Daisy, and Josie's father. He secretly stashes away money for his family in case anything should ever happen to him, therefore living a simple life. This proves to be a wise decision as John dies from a sudden illness.
- Little Men: Life at Plumfield With Jo's Boys Chicago, New York: M. A. Donohue & Co., c1871 at A Celebration of Women Writers